True Tiella

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Tiella is the Italian name for a deep earthenware baking dish as well as for anything cooked in that dish. For me, the word conjures up a flood of memories. It reminds me of the chamomile on my aunt’s breath, and of a dining table covered with a hand-crocheted cloth, small wine tumblers, and a glass decanter filled with rustic red wine. When my family returns from a successful mushroom hunt, we make this tiella with potatoes and porcini and a touch of tomato. This recipe is for the tiella I learned from my mother. Although everyone in my extended family makes a distinctive version, they all agree on one thing: tiella must be made ahead for the flavors to develop and the texture to set so that it holds together when cut. Make it on a summer morning while the kitchen is still cool and have it for supper that night. The flavors only get better the next day.


In season, I replace My Mother’s Tomato Sauce with fresh tomatoes that have been peeled, seeded, and chopped. I add a little more olive oil and garlic to the dish to compensate for the moisture and flavor in the sauce.

Serves6 as a main course or 8 to 10 as a side dish.

Cooking Methodbaking


Total Timeunder 2 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionBuffet, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course, side dish

Dietary Considerationegg-free, halal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free, vegetarian

Mealdinner, lunch

Taste and Texturegarlicky, herby, savory

Type of Dishcasserole, gratin, vegetable


  • Olive oil
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 pound spinach, thick stems removed
  • 1 pound zucchini
  • 1½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled
  • Sea salt, preferably gray salt, and freshly ground pepper
  • 3½ cups My Mother’s Tomato Sauce 
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • About 2/3 cup Fine Dried Bread Crumbs


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a deep 2½-3-quart baking dish (about 9 by 12 inches).

  2. In a small bowl, combine the extra-virgin olive oil and garlic.

  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare a bowl of ice water. Plunge the spinach into the boiling water for about 15 seconds, then drain and transfer to the ice bath. When cool, drain again and squeeze dry. Chop coarsely and transfer to a bowl.

  4. Trim the ends of the zucchini, then cut lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick slices. Put in a separate bowl.

  5. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, put the halves cut-side down, and then cut them lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick “fingers.” Put the potatoes in a third bowl.

  6. Season the spinach, zucchini, and potatoes lightly with salt (the Parmesan will add more salt) and with pepper. Toss the vegetables with some of the garlic oil, using enough to coat them generously. Reserve any remaining oil for drizzling on top of the tiella.

  7. Using half of the potatoes, make a layer in the prepared baking dish, filling in any gaps with small pieces. Spread with ½ cup of the tomato sauce, then sprinkle with 1½ tablespoons of the basil, 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan, and 2 tablespoons of the bread crumbs. Repeat the layering-vegetable, tomato sauce, basil, Parmesan, bread crumbs-using all the zucchini and then all the spinach. Top with the remaining potatoes and then the remaining tomato sauce and basil. Drizzle with the remaining garlic oil.

  8. Cover and bake until tender and bubbling, about 1¼ hours. Uncover, sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan and the remaining 4 tablespoons bread crumbs, and continue to cook until the top browns, about 15 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature to allow the dish to settle and deepen in flavor.

  9. Tiella may be served hot, warm, or at room temperature. Reheat in a low oven if desired. To serve, cut into squares and carefully lift out of the pan with a spatula.


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